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The most advanced space weather radar in the world is to be built in the Arctic. The EISCAT_3D radar will provide UK scientists with a cutting-edge tool to probe the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space, helping them understand the effects of space weather storms on the lower atmosphere, satellites, communications and power grids.

Thanks to new investment, including £4 to £6m from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the EISCAT_3D facility (costing £63m) will be distributed across three sites in the Arctic across northern Scandinavia. EISCAT_3D will give scientists the means to understand how the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere respond to solar storms and space weather. 

The northern hemisphere already hosts several EISCAT radars, situated in areas where you can see the northern lights or aurora borealis. They take measurements in a region of the Earth’s upper atmosphere called the ionosphere – from about 70 to 1000 km altitude. They sample the electron concentration and temperature, and the ion temperature and velocity at a range of altitudes along the radar beam direction. The current EISCAT radars provide a single beam, so researchers can only look at one small portion of the sky at a given time.  

A key capability of the new EISCAT_3D radar will be to measure the upper atmosphere in lots of different directions simultaneously with unprecedented detail. Scientists will be able to take measurements across scales from hundreds of metres to hundreds of kilometres, providing exceptional detail and vast quantities of data, and opening the scope of research that can be carried out. 

EISCAT radars can already be found in mainland Norway, Finland, and Sweden and on Svalbard. The EISCAT_3D radar project will start in September 2017 with site preparations beginning in summer 2018. The radar is expected to be operational in 2021.

EISCAT is an international partnership that provides state-of-the-art instrumentation to scientists from the UK, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan and China for investigations into the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space. The current UK contribution to EISCAT is via NERC, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).